In an amazing breakthrough in AIDS research, scientists at both Rockefeller University and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta have developed antiretroviral injections that, when given once a month, have been shown to suppress AIDS symptoms and protect against the virus in monkeys. While a human trial has yet to take place, experts say the development holds a huge amount of promise.
A similar antiretroviral drug treatment called PreP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) has been available for humans since 2010 and is shown to have a 90% success rate in protection against AIDS. In practice, however, PreP — which consists of pills that must be taken daily — has had limited success because few people remember or are willing to take their daily dosages. It was particularly problematic with women in the developing world who worried that their sexual partners would find their medication and assume they had the virus.
An injection could change all that. Only given once a month (and scientists have observed that it is equally effective when given once every three months), the shot is easy, discreet and gives those seeking AIDS treatment and protection an alternative option to PreP much in the same way that the Depo-Provera shot has provided an alternative option to birth control pills.
In both studies, scientists began treating monkeys with the drug GSK744, with some monkeys being given a placebo. The animals were then exposed — either vaginally or rectally to simulate sex — with a hybrid version of the AIDS virus. Those who had been given the placebo became infected quickly while those who were on GSK744 were protected completely.
While human trials could end with different results, experts are hopeful.
Donald McNeil Jr. at The New York Times writes:
The studies were presented here on Tuesday at the annual Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections.
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, called the results "very impressive for something in the animal model."
Mitchell J. Warren, executive director of AVAC, an organization lobbying for AIDS prevention and treatment, said a long-acting injectable drug "is clearly the place to go because adherence has been the Achilles' heel of PreP."
Human trials will begin later this year with a small group of 175 people from the United States, Malawi, South Africa and Brazil.
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